How to pre­pare a mix ses­sion for stem mas­ter­ing

Future Music - - FM EXPLAINER -

Pre­par­ing a fin­ished mix­down ready for ‘reg­u­lar’ mas­ter­ing is sim­ple: make sure your track doesn’t peak above -2dB, ex­port the track down to a stereo file, then send it to the mas­ter­ing en­gi­neer. Easy!

How­ever, prep­ping your mix ses­sion for stem mas­ter­ing takes a bit more con­sid­er­a­tion. You’ll want to sum your col­lec­tion of tracks down to a hand­ful of stems that will fa­cil­i­tate the en­gi­neer’s job down the line, and as ev­ery mix has its own unique char­ac­ter­is­tics, it’s vi­tal that you un­der­stand how to take full ad­van­tage of this ap­proach.

The best way to do this is to create five or six group channels (ie, buses) in your DAW, route sig­nals into them, then la­bel them all up ap­pro­pri­ately. These groups will then be your stems, and you can solo each in turn and ex­port them. This will neaten up the fi­nal mix ses­sion, and ul­ti­mately will also al­low you to keep track on your group­ings.

Fre­quency bal­ance must be con­sid­ered when group­ing track el­e­ments. If you bun­dle bright, fizzy synths with darker parts, it’ll be harder to brighten the lat­ter sounds with­out in­tro­duc­ing harsh­ness. In­stead, group and ex­port sounds that sit in sim­i­lar tonal re­gions.

If your mix con­tains aux­il­iary ef­fect channels (de­lays, re­verbs, etc), it’s a good idea to in­clude these sig­nals in with the orig­i­nal source sounds. To ex­port these prop­erly, solo your groups and ren­der them out, to en­sure said ef­fects are baked into the source stems.

It makes a lot of sense to ren­der your kick and bass down to two sep­a­rate files. This will al­low the mas­ter­ing en­gi­neer to re­fine the bal­ance of these two all-im­por­tant low-fre­quency parts, then op­ti­mise their sep­a­ra­tion and in­ter­ac­tion if re­quired.

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